Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Tee Thye Lim & Chiew Lin May
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is glad they attended the 9th East and Southeast Asian Wild Animal Rescue Network Conference (WARN Conference) from 7th to 11th November 2017 in Cuc Phuong, Vietnam. This year, the WARN Conference was hosted by the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre (Cuc Phuong, Vietnam). A total of 70 participants from 18 organizations attended the conference and shared their experiences related to animal rescue, rehabilitation and release through presentations, practical workshops and site visits to their rescued centres. The theme of this year was “Wildlife Rescuing,Rehabilitation and Release”.
The purpose of WARN is to enhance the capabilities of East and South East Asian wildlife rescue centers to rescue and conserve wildlife, provide conservation awareness education for the public and advocate minimum standards for wildlife rescue centers.
One of the highlights of the conference was the post conference tour to
i. Endangered Primate Rescue Center
ii. Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program)
iii. The Turtle Conservation Centre
iv. FOUR PAWS Bear Sanctuary Ninh Binh
v. Van Long Nature Reserve
The conference was a great opportunity to tackle the ongoing wildlife crisis and develop better rescue, rehabilitation and release animal care. Huge thanks to WARN Members and Endangered Primate Rescue Center for hosting this successful 9th WARN Conference. It was great sharing experience!!
Text by Nur Athirah Binti Asrif
Photos by Nur Athirah Binti Asrif, Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Hi my name is Nur Athirah. I am 21 years old and am currently a final year undergraduate Zoology student from the University Malaysia Sarawak. I was born and raised in the nature city of Sandakan. I have known BSBCC since they started but never had the chance to pay a visit. In the past I have always aspired to be a volunteer to work with the bears but here I am finally, sharing you my own story!
A little heads up; there will be tons of pictures of my days in BSBCC here. Well as the saying goes, A picture is worth a thousand words, so bear with it! :)
As a requirement for my studies, we have to undergo an industrial training for a period of 10 weeks. I have zero hesitation upon applying BSBCC as my internship placement and am totally grateful to be accepted. I admit that I was one of the luckiest to have done my industrial training in this centre. For all the 69 working days, there was not a single day that I didn’t gain a new experience. It was truly a life changing journey which I believe I would not get from any other places. Each day in the centre has always been interesting and I will always look forward to what will come on the upcoming days. It is a place that brings a more positive side of me as I was able to venture myself into more extraordinary and more challenging tasks and that is what makes my journey a memorable one. In a way, it acts like a rehab not only for the sunbears, but also for me.
Sunbears are the smallest bears in the world and are one of the least known. It was devastating for me as a local to see how little do our own people know about these beautiful creatures. As I have the opportunity to get engaged with the public during educational outreach and also at the visitors centre, I realized that most of the locals have very little knowledge about the sunbears let alone the wildlife. But a huge thanks to our papa bear, Dr Wong Siew Te for all his hard work in which more of the sunbears that in danger are saved and more people are educated.
Formerly, BSBCC has four main pillars which include welfare, rehabilitation, education and research. During my days in this centre, I have the opportunity to work with various departments which covers almost all the four pillars.
First off is welfare, which are mainly all the work in the bear house. Our daily routine in the bear house is well organized as we follow the schedule provided. From feeding to husbandry, everything is neatly organized and is well timed. During my first few weeks working, it was a tough ride as it was a whole new experience. I have never cleaned (bear) cages before but during my first day I managed to clean five and I feel rather proud of myself. As days passed, I feel accustomed to the routine and felt less lethargic during work. It was a tough ride but trust me, even with a small, unfit physical state like me, you be able to do things you have never imagined before as you try you’re very best.
As a volunteer, you will be assigned to a bear keeper whom will be guiding you throughout your volunteer period. Here is a picture of me and my buddy keeper, Mr Brandon Khoo Lee Ming cutting fire hoses for our project, the Noah’s Ark. Every volunteer are also encourage making a new form of enrichment for the bears regardless of the materials. For me, I made a small bunk bed which kind of resembles a hammock for the bears to simply relax and play.
During my internship period, I was lucky enough to experience the whole procedure when a bear deceased and when a bear is rescued. I was able to do taxidermy on the deceased bear, Gutuk and also joined the team when the new rescued bear arrived, Soo.
Other than that, in the process of rehabilitation, I was given the opportunity to observe Noah and Nano from their fence training until the moment they are released into the forest enclosure. Observing this lovable duo had been a bittersweet memory. It was a touching moment for me as I was lucky enough to witness the joy of the bears when they are released into the forest enclosure for the first time. Plus, I also wrote two story blogs about Nano and Noah which entitled “Cannot have the sweet without the bitter” and “A castle of wood, A playground for bears”.
This centre enables you to work with every task available. Your tasks vary from sawing bamboos, collecting termite mounts to hand drilling ironwoods. Regardless that you are a small girl, you will get the chance to do all the tough duty. The bear care team will always be there for you and guide you with all the work. I never waste my chance and always ready to learn something new because; where else will you have a chance to improve your craftsmanship?
Also, cheers to my sidekicks, Chee Yong and Batrisyia which are also interns from Zoology,UNIMAS. We are the first intern students from UNIMAS to have done our industrial training in BSBCC and are said to be the best, haha (just kidding)! It was an amazing journey working with these people and I would never have all the fun things without them.
This centre had taught me a lot not only about the sunbears but about passion, determination, hardwork, teamwork, skills and so forth. Huge thanks to Dr Wong Siew Te for all the knowledge and the time he spends just to have a meeting session with his volunteers. A round of applause to the bear care team who make my days in BSBCC as one of the best moment of my life. Every day at work is filled with laughter and fun. The bear care team had taught me a lot and have gave me so many insight especially in teamwork. Every day the team do noble jobs wholeheartedly and it is what I aspire to do in the near future. It took a one whole amazing team to make a globally known conservation centre.
Not to forget the educational team, for giving me a chance to visit three various schools around Sandakan. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to educate our own people about the sunbears and the wildlife.
Thank you so much for everything. I promise I’ll come back in the near future. Till then,
Love, Barks and Big Bear Hugs!
The world’s first symposium about the sun bear got underway in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, yesterday (Monday). Attendees shared information about the plight of the animal, which has been listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and began developing a conservation action plan.
The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), which is also known as the honey bear, dog bear, or small bear, and the ours des cocotiers (coconut bear) in French, is present in 11 countries: mainly in Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, India, and Laos, but also in China.
David Garshelis from the IUCN’s bear specialist group told symposium attendees that there are possibly two sun bear species.
The sun bears on Borneo (Helarctos malayanus euryspilus) are different to those on the Asian mainland and Sumatra.
Sun bears can be distinguished by the white or yellowish patch on their chest. They feed on sweet fruits, small rodents, birds, termites, and other insects.
Populations are decreasing, mainly because of habitat destruction and fragmentation, commercial hunting, and human-bear conflict.
There is widespread snaring throughout the sun bear’s range.
In Malaysia and Indonesia, most of the forest clearing is for palm oil plantations and pulpwood.
With most public attention being paid to the keynote species such as the orangutan, the tiger, the elephant, and the rhino, the plight of the sun bear is rarely front-page news. The attendees at this week’s three-day symposium aim to raise the animal’s profile and spread awareness of the need to conserve the species.
Matt Hunt from the organisation Free the Bears, which was set up in Perth, Australia, and runs sun bear sanctuaries in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, said of the sun bear: “Compared to the other bears, it doesn’t really appear to have inspired anything like the level of cultural relevance or reverence that other bear species have across the globe.
“Even today the vast majority of visitors to Southeast Asia, and probably the vast majority of residents of Southeast Asia, don’t seem to realise that they are living in bear country.”
Gabriella Fredricksson, who founded a sun bear education centre in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, said: “The sun bear is not a high-profile species. There are a lot of other species that are considered more important.”
It is not widely known, for instance, that sun bears are excellent climbers and spend a considerable amount of time in trees.
One big problem, Garshelis says, is that there are not enough people researching in the field. “For other bears, there are more.”
For Hunt, a main challenge is how to increase awareness, but not end up encouraging illegal trade. Sun bears are sold on markets and via Facebook, Hunt says, and such trafficking is a growing threat.
Hunt cites one survey carried out in the Laotian capital Vientiane. A total 12 percent of those questioned said they had purchased wildlife in the previous 12 months and 28 percent said they wanted to purchase wildlife.
Heidi Quine from Animals Asia – which has offices in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Hong Kong, Vietnam and several countries in Europe – talked to symposium attendees about bear bile farming, which is now illegal in Vietnam.
“Animals Asia has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding that means that the government will be in a position where they need to follow up and make sure that all bears that are in private residences are removed from farms by 2023 and they’ve committed to working with Animals Asia to make sure that that happens,” Quine told Changing Times.
In Vietnam, since 2005, all bears kept by farmers have had to be registered and microchipped, under the agreement that they wouldn’t be harvested for their bile.
“However, because of a lack of law enforcement by the authorities, and a lack of resources, there has been a loophole and we know that the bears are still being farmed; they are still being kept in these private residences,” Quine said.
“The MoU means that they are going to remove all of those bears from private residences, thereby collapsing that loophole.”
Bile farming is still going on in Vietnam, China, Korea, and Laos. There are thought to be about 1,000 bears, including Asiatic black bears, on farms in Vietnam. In China there are many more: an estimated 10,000 black and brown bears. Sun bears are much rarer.
The founder and CEO of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Wong Siew Te (pictured below), also points to the need for more action to implement laws.
“Sun bears are protected across their range, but there is very little interest in law enforcement.”
Fredriksson told symposium attendees that, in 2008, percentages of the sun bear’s overall distribution range were 46.3 in Indonesia, 18.5 in Myanmar, and 15.4 in Malaysia. In Thailand, it used to be 13 percent, but now is 3.3 percent.
She said that four of the sun bear range countries were among those most responsible for deforestation: Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Laos. The land clearing was mostly for palm oil, she said. There was then trading in sun bears after the clearing.
Sun bear populations are decreasing in almost all range countries, Fredricksson told symposium attendees.
She said that, according to sun bear experts in each range country, the biggest future decrease will be in Vietnam (between 50 and 80 percent in the next thirty years).
The overall prediction is a decrease of 39 percent in the future as compared with 42 percent in thirty years overlapping with the present and 30 percent for the past. If there is a 30 percent decline in any time window, a species is considered to be vulnerable.
Fredriksson (pictured left) says there are hundreds of sun bears in captivity in Indonesia.
She says close to one hundred of the animals are in orangutan rescue centres; a “byproduct” of orangutan confiscation.
“All of the centres are full. Nobody wants any sun bears anymore. The government is looking at solutions to deal with this without wanting to invest money into it as there is little public pressure on the government within Indonesia to start dealing properly with displaced wildlife.”
Since 2012, Fredriksson says, it has been legal for private organisations like those running petting zoos, to keep protected species like sun bears in captivity. This, she says, is a way of using sun bears that many would consider to be exploitation; and the conditions in which the bears are kept are often substandard.
Nearly eighty licences have been given out to private “conservation organisations”, Fredriksson says.
Heidi Quine told symposium attendees about work being done in the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre in the Tam Dao National Park, which covers eleven hectares and has a capacity for two hundred bears, including black bears. Eleven sun bears are currently being cared for at the centre. The bears arrive with a “suite of psychological and physical trauma”, which takes significant investment and time and patience to sort out, Quine says.
Quine also says there needs to be much more rescue centre capacity for sun bears.
Robert Steinmetz talked about the sun bear’s possible resilience in the face of poaching pressures. He said that black bears tended to be poached more than sun bears. They had a more predictable behavior than sun bears and hunters could target them more easily.
Garshelis (pictured left) says the sun bear is the bear most commonly raised as a pet.
The longest running Free the Bears programme is in Cambodia, where there are 125 sun bears in the sanctuary. All the Free the Bears sanctuaries are government owned.
Wong Siew Te says a major challenge is getting sun bears back to the forest. This is important, Wong says, not least because of the roles they play in the ecosystem. “Forest doctor and “forest farmer” are just two of the terms used to describe the bears.
One bear was released from the Bornean centre in 2006. Another was released in 2015, and another in 2016. The process is not easy, Wong says, and involves gaining knowledge about sun bears’ biology and life history.
“The bears that we release have to be able to find wild food, and one of the threats for the bears that live in the forest is other bears, so we have to wait until they are big enough to defend themselves before we release them.”
In rehabilitation, Wong says, bears need to be trained to climb trees.
“Finding a big chunk of forest that is free from hunting and poaching, and is not going to be cleared in the near future, is very difficult. All of this is extremely challenging.”
Wong says that two sun bears were literally helicoptered in to the Tabin wildlife reserve in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, so that they could be released in the middle of the forest.
Shahriar Caesar Rahman from the Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA) in Bangladesh says studies have indicated that there is no viable sun bear population in the country, but the CCA has been working with local tribal people to collect data and there are photos showing that the animals are still there.
Rahman says that, too often, wildlife conservative projects are implemented by outside organisations. “People who don’t know the area come and take a snapshot of the situation. They do not really see the whole picture.
“They often come up with one-size-fits-all projects that don’t work. There needs to be more of an exchange with local people. You learn from them, and you teach them something.”
In Bangladesh, Rahman says, habitat destruction is a bigger threat to the sun bears than hunting and, over the past 12 years, there has been a big increase in slash-and-burn clearance for rice cultivation. “We are trying to work on protecting habitat and reducing hunting pressure.”
The CCA has helped build schools in rural areas and is assisting local people so that they can develop alternative livelihoods that do not endanger wildlife or the environment.
“The sun bear doesn’t need management; people do. Ultimately, if we want to save the sun bears of Bangladesh, it’s very simple; we just need to save the forest,” Rahman said.
Roshan Guharajan from the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at the University of Minnesota says that, in Sabah, sun bears are living in a landscape dominated by oil palm plantations.
“It is a remarkable species,” he said. “There is high hunting pressure, but, despite this, they have learned how to survive and have even managed to breed.”
The future survival of sun bears, Guharajan says, depends on how successful anti-poaching methods prove to be.
In Sarawak, the other state in Malaysian Borneo, sun bears are not fully protected.
Hunt says a main aim of the symposium is to produce a range-wide guide for sun bear conservation interventions over the next ten years. “Probably the next step will be to create national action plans.”
Free the Bears will take the range-wide guide to the Cambodian government to show the authorities what is being recommended for the species and hopes it will then be able to work with those authorities to create a national action plan.
“Realistically, our hope is that, within the next five years, we will be able to get national action plans drawn up in three range countries.”
Hunt (pictured below) says sun bears are the Jack Russell terriers of the bear world. “What they lack in stature they certainly make up for in personality.”
Star2.com, 18th July 2017